Teaching it and selling it

Michael Hirsch UFT Vice President Sterling Roberson (left), at an Apple training workshop on iPads in the classroom on Oct. 16 that featured speakers Luz Minaya of IS 528 in Manhattan and Chris Casal of PS 10 in Brooklyn.

Hurricane Sandy was a catastrophe for a lot of New Yorkers. It was also a reminder that, even in our age of technological wonders, when the lights went out, many of us had the practical skills to help neighbors through a natural disaster. UFT teacher volunteers used their interpersonal skills to help in evacuation centers, nurses were ubiquitous and skilled craftsmen pitched in to do repairs. People who were handy became princes of the city.

UFTers with even a bit of carpentry background went to devastated areas such as Midland Beach in Staten Island or the Rockaways in Queens to put up walls. Those with mason’s experience helped rebuild and secure water-logged foundations. Those with electrical backgrounds did yeoman work, too.

In a crisis, we had citizens not only with the decency but with the practical capacity to help.

We need more people like that.

As career and technical educators, we know that mastering practical skills matters, that schooling can’t be all academics — important as they are — and that college-bound kids like everyone else need a solid grounding in work-readiness.

Plenty of our academic colleagues agree with us. It’s hardly controversial; it’s never about academics versus skills training, but academics and skills training together.

Sure, the Department of Education is slow to get it. As LaGuardia HS’s Paula Washington said at a recent CTE meeting, “They don’t ask the right questions, so they don’t know what wonderful things we do.”

We know that what we do has value for students, and we need to get that story out. We don’t need another disaster to prove it.

That’s why it’s critical that we CTE teachers talk among ourselves about expanding opportunities for students to put what they learn in school into practice.

It’s why we need strong programs in place that build on such experiences as those at Food and Finance HS and Co-op Tech, whose students put their skills to work in catering events and where potential partners can see for themselves what students can do.

It’s why we need to say to our industry partners, who cite a skilled worker shortage, that they should invite us when they have an event.

It’s why we need school advisory boards comprising industry employers and others to help shape and vouch for our programs.

Because when quality CTE programs work, it’s not a hard sell. When employers come to see the students, the game is over.

We need not only to strengthen workplace learning but make it available to students with disabilities, who already make up one in five CTE students and deserve an active and productive life after graduation. Students already have a readiness to work; they need a pathway to a career, too.

As CTE teachers, we know we have to be ahead of the learning curve, augmenting our skills regularly, especially in a period where jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (the “STEM” fields) are increasing at three times the rate of jobs in the rest of the economy, causing the Partnership for New York City to cite a “projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers.”

That’s why the UFT sponsors workshops where corporations such as Adobe and Apple offer transformational devices and software applications that train not only students but teachers, too. A recent union-sponsored workshop featured speakers — two of them our own members, Luz Minaya of Manhattan’s IS 528 and Chris Casal of Brooklyn’s PS 10 — showing numerous ways that iPads could aid classroom instruction.

The list of companies elbowing each other to prove that their products, services and model curricula work for teachers and students is long and growing, even as state after state cuts training programs.

We know what CTE must do. A mayoral task force even spelled it out: prepare students to meet academic and industry-based standards; prepare them for postsecondary education, work and training options; integrate coursework and hands-on experience and make them accessible to all students.

Good words! But somebody has to sell it. How about us?

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